How I Cope With My Fear of Flying

How I Cope With My Fear of Flying

Yes ladies and gentlemen… I do have a fear of flying — yet here I am, still booking flights and chasing my dreams of traveling the whole world. It kind of makes you think that I’m torturing myself, ain’t I? *laughs*

But let’s go back to the start because actually, in the past… I was the kind of person who didn’t have this kind of fear.

Growing up in the remote islands of Batanes in the Philippines, I often went on airplane rides with my family at such an early age. It might sound fine and dandy, but given the sub-par standards of the aviation industry at that time (hello, 3rd world country!), most of my experiences weren’t exactly pleasant.

I may not have been a part of a plane crash (fortunately) but my dire experiences were enough to put anyone into a ‘flying trauma’. They ranged from regular trips with small planes from hell — think 4-seater planes that looked like they can be ripped apart in seconds: loose screws and cracked panels attached together with masking tape — to normal and military planes that often did emergency nose-dive descents or full-on sprees of turbulence.

Despite all of those however, I grew up as a teenage lass who had zero fear towards the notion of riding airplanes. I guess you can say that I have been ‘well-conditioned‘ since birth because I did survive every ordeal, so any fear-inducing actions of any aircraft were things that I just naturally ignored. In fact, you would often find me calming down friends, family and even strangers whenever they get freaked out during airplane rides.
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However, Here Came The Trigger…

Fast forward to when I was 21, I was sitting in a big plane headed to Europe with over 18 hours of flight before me.

When it reached the 4th hour, I was suddenly overwhelmed by crippling fear.

My palms were sweating and I couldn’t relax — and that certainly surprised me. It surprised my friend too who was with me during the flight. As the roles were reversed with him calming me down in my seat, I tried to analyze my situation. “Okay, what changed here?” Am I suddenly scared of flying because I’ve become more conscious about flight accidents? Of the concept of life and death? Of the fact that there are two strangers that are flying this plane who I’m placing my life’s fate on?

Passengers

But I shook my head and told myself that all of that just sounded absurd because I was never bothered by those thoughts before!

When the plane started go through turbulence yet again, I suddenly realized what was wrong: 1 to 3 hours of turbulence was fine — I was programmed to withstand that since childhood — but to stretch the experience for over 18 hours…?

Obviously, that stressed me out and that’s what changed me, and clearly, it suddenly triggered an irrational fear in me. After all, I wasn’t well-informed about turbulence either. I just knew that they typically happen but as I sat there for long hours, I wondered what is it really about? Does it signal danger?

Having absorbed these concerns, every fiber in my being was screaming and yearning for land; I badly wanted to get out in order to clear my thoughts but I was clearly stuck in that flying piece of metal with nowhere to go… Jittery and afraid, I didn’t know what else to do but I clearly didn’t want to inconvenience anyone (bad move of course). So for the rest of the trip, I just sat there clutching the sides of my seat until my knuckles turned white, telling my friend that I was fine, and letting myself be caged inside my own poisonous thoughts — thoughts that were forming ghastly scenarios while I slowly inched my way towards developing pteromerhanophobia (fear of flying).

When our plane finally landed, my anxiousness naturally subsided… but of course at that time, I was terribly frustrated.

I absolutely didn’t want to experience that EVER again, nor did I want to fully develop my newfound fear of flying! Besides, I had to take another flight back home after that trip. Add the fact that I had more international trips planned for the future. I made the decision to start a travel lifestyle after all because it’s my one true dream; so for sure, I’m not going to let yet another fear stop me!

That’s why starting that day, I took the steps to manage my fear so that it wouldn’t get any worse.

Now I bet that you had a different situation that triggered your fear of flying — it could definitely be something worse than mine — but I can assure you that it’s always something that you can cope with, if not overcome.

With the help of the tips below (that I have personally done and of which I have gathered from people who have also managed to get over their fear of flying), it is with my hope that you too can get over this hurdle!
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4 Steps: Cope With Your Fear of Flying

#1: Find out exactly what you’re afraid of, and then face the facts

Scared of Flying

The various types of ‘fear triggers’ are vast, some of which are: turbulence, landings, take-off, crashes, and terrorism — they can surely range from small things to big ones and it’s important as early as now to identify what’s making you fear the concept of flying. Once you do, “battle your fear with facts.” It helps to make the conscious effort of researching data that would counter the misconceptions that you may have. Example…

TURBULENCE. This was the trigger for me; to be more precise, prolonged and constant turbulence. After doing some research, I realized that my fear was unfounded.

Turbulence DOESN’T mean that the plane is going through problems or that it is going to crash: it’s simply going through a change in airflow. Hence, it’s perfectly normal and natural — much like that bump on the road that you experience while you’re out driving your car. In fact, if you ask pilots, it’s more of an ‘inconvenience’: they’re not worried about the plane going down, they’re more worried about passengers who might feel uncomfortable about it, and maybe if they are worried about something falling down, it will only be about your cups and plates. That’s all.

I can go on a long discussion about the scientific explanation for this but I think it’s best that you just read this article or simply Google about it.

As for other related occurrences that make you think that the airplane will go down, it helps to know this as well: driving and riding cars are actually more dangerous than flying. You’ve probably heard someone saying this and believe me, it’s true. Statistically speaking, you would have to take a flight every day for 123K years in a commercial plane before encountering an accident (this is according to New York Times). Yet of course, when an airplane crash does happen, we make a big deal out of it! Have you wondered why…?

Well that’s because they are SO rare.

So why are flying accidents happening more rarely as compared to driving accidents? One of the reasons would be because the ‘vehicle’ (a commercial airplane) is operated by experts — two of them at least. You might not know this but pilots spend a lot of time in school but it’s not because flying is hard to learn (I’ve been told by a pilot friend of mine that it’s not that complex to do take-off or landing) but because flight schools simply train pilots over and over again so that they can handle EVERY possible occurrence that may happen while flying an aircraft.

Overall, whatever your fear may be, Google is just a click away. Otherwise, the following resources and courses can help you manage your fear better! (There are even apps that can help you out.)

Now I know that some people can still retain their fear of flying no matter how you feed them with concrete facts and statistics (like me). Hopefully, the following tips can help to further alleviate it…

#2: Confront your fear of flying

Airport Terminal

There is a thing which psychologists call as “gradual exposure“. It’s where you expose yourself to the thing you are afraid of… bit by bit.

As an example, if the idea of flying makes you anxious right from the moment that you step foot in an airport, it’s therefore advisable that you start by hanging out in those airport terminals at first, or by volunteering to drop off your traveling friends over there until you come to acquaint yourself with the environment. Spend some time watching those planes take off and land too, so that you can slowly ease your mind with the idea of being in a plane again.

When that’s done with, proceed to the next level of confrontation: “constant exposure” — in this situation, it means that you should fly often. It’s very effective for overcoming your phobia of flying because every flight will provide you the opportunity to make the next one a lot more easier to deal with. In a way, it’s an act that will help you train not only your mind but also your body.

Now once you are on that plane…

#3: It helps to distract yourself

Noise Canceling Headphones

Your mind is powerful — but that can be a two-edged sword. It’s soooo powerful that it can easily fill your head with drastic thoughts in a nanosecond; but on the flip side, it’s also very powerful that you can make it tune out any fear. You should take advantage of this latter capability by ignoring your woes, by pretending that your anxiousness doesn’t exist, and by constantly thinking happy thoughts! You are absolutely capable of training your mind to do these.

How exactly?

  • Distract your mind by focusing it somewhere else: a movie, a book, a soundtrack (pack a noise-canceling headphone!), a game, etc. — anything that could keep you busy.
  • By picturing the destination NOT the journey. Fill your mind with wondrous thoughts of what you’ll be doing once you arrive! This will help give you feelings of anticipation instead of dread.
  • Chat with your ‘flight neighbor’ or your travel partner. One of the things that often alarms passengers other than changes in movement are the changes in sounds within the aircraft; so if you keep on yapping away (or if you distract yourself with the things listed in the first bullet) you can distract yourself from overthinking every suspicious noise that could trigger your fear of flying.

#4: Seek ‘outside’ help

Clouds

If all else fails, you can do either of these two things:

Talk to the cabin crew. Seek for their help and advice. They are trained to handle passengers and any kind of situation inflight; so if you are ever anxious, don’t be afraid to ring the bell because they can surely aid in making you feel more comfortable all throughout the flight.

Seek a professional’s help. Try formal courses that will help you get over your fear of flying (I have listed some of them in point #1)

NOTE: You can also go to your doctor to ask for a suitable medication/drug that you can use during a flight. Some people have used sleeping pills, herbal teas, etc. and it’s possible these could work best for you as well because they are proven to work most of the time. But personally, I don’t recommend medication since it could never really answer the problem; it’s rather a form of ‘escaping’ the problem. I personally don’t want to depend on it… yet of course, I understand if this might be the only way for you for now. That being said, do use medication with caution!

While we’re still on the topic of substances, if I may add, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol. For one thing, the properties of caffeine can inadvertently cause nervousness and anxiety. In every flight, it’s important to keep yourself well-hydrated and your blood sugar on check — coffee is something that won’t fulfill this goal. Therefore, it’s rather best to stick to water and juices.

Whereas for alcohol, though it helps for a short while, you should know that drinking one glass during a flight would equal to drinking nearly two because when you’re high up in the air, there is less oxygen than what you would normally breathe when on ground thereby making you more intoxicated. Additionally, you can get more motion sickness because of it and that definitely wouldn’t be pleasant at all. (Save for the fact that you might inconvenience the people around you once you start to reek of alcohol or become too tipsy).
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Overall

Fear of Flying

I still have my fear of flying BUT it only comes and goes in just a matter of seconds. I can absolutely say with confidence that I have fully come to learn how to manage my fear and not let it control me — aaaand (wait for it…) I bet you could too!

Like what I’ve said, I don’t think you would let this kind of fear stop you from seeing the rest of the world (take note that sea and land transportation won’t bring you fast to a lot of far-flung places).

Besides, you’ll be surprised at how most of your fears are actually irrational to the very core. So again, with the help of these tips, I dearly hope that you’ll soon be flying again fear-free!

How about you?

  • Do you also have a fear of flying?
  • How do you cope with it?
  • Do you have other tips to add?

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33 comments

  1. I can totally relate!!! Another great (travel) read here, Aileen! :)

    I've also written some articles on my blog related to my fear of flying and like you, I've learned to manage it. My favorite part of this post: "By picturing the destination NOT the journey. Fill your mind with wondrous thoughts of what you’ll be doing once you arrive! This will help give you feelings of anticipation instead of dread." That's also what I do to "distract" myself during flights (especially long-haul ones!).

    Happy travels! :)

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    1. I'm happy to hear that, Mika. Thanks! :) That's awesome that you have managed to cope with it as well and that we have the same methods. It's really effective! Happy travels to you too.

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  2. Oh my god, I hate flying. I'm terrified of it. I've written about this same topic extensively on my blog in order to raise awareness and to try and cope with my own anxiety. You write a lot of great tips here! I agree that flying fears are very personal for everyone. You need to find the root of your specific fear and get to the bottom of it.

    As for me, I keep flying again and again because I love to travel. I refuse to let my flight anxiety stop my life. I have a flight to Spain in March, haha, that I'll need to face. Right now I am on medication to help me, but, like you said in your post, I know it's only curing the symptoms and not the cause. Hopefully one day I can fly medicine free again. :)

    Thanks for this post! <3 I feel like it's an important topic in the travel world.

    Reply
    1. I'm glad you agree with my tips! Indeed, it's very important to find the root cause of the problem. It's also great by the way that you are conditioning yourself to just simply keep flying often. :D I bet you'll be fine, and in time I believe you'll be medicine-free! Enjoy your trip <3

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  3. Love your tips! I am not afraid to fly, but your tips can apply to other areas of our lives. For example you write about how powerful your mind is how it can quickly fill with scary thoughts and things that will never really happen. And that you need to distract yourself with good thoughts. The thing that works well for me too is not to leave myself much time between making a decision about something and actually doing it. The longer amount of time I have in between the more time my mind has to conjure up all of the things that could possibly go wrong, and that is super frustrating.

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    1. That's a great tip Sicorra and I totally agree with that :D

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  4. Ugh, I hate long flights! Our flight from Orlando to LA was awful. The only thing that helped was to keep watching movies to make the time pass. I couldn't fall asleep, so that was the next best thing. Great tips you have here!

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    1. Aw, sorry to hear that! But I'm glad to hear that 'distraction' helped you cope with it. :D It really helps for sure!

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  5. Such a powerful post, I'm so glad that I don't have a fear of flying, but I have a friend whose have a fear of flying. She doesn't want to fly. I think we should face our fears whatever it is.

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    1. I'm glad that you like it Chris! And I hope your friend gets over her fear. It can still prove somewhat difficult for most though to change; but indeed, there's always a way to try and fix it.

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  6. When I was younger, I was never afraid of flying. In fact, I couldn't wait to get on a plane to go somewhere. Now that I'm older, I definitely have gotten more nervous when flying. You provided a lot of great ways to cope with the fear of flying. Nice, thorough and helpful post!

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    1. Aaah, you were the same as me then! I think that as we mature, our mind really starts to work differently. Much like you, I still get nervous but with proper distraction, I often just shove it aside. Thanks, Tee!

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  7. Thanks so much for this tips! Now I know what to do in case me and my family fly! We haven't tried traveling via plane..

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    1. Glad to hear this, and I bet you guys will be fine. :)

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  8. I don't really have a fear of flying, but I don't like it. It's uncomfortable and stuffy, and you're crammed in with a bunch of other people. I wish I didn't have to do it, I wish I could just snap my fingers and be anywhere I wanted! But sadly, we have to fly if we want to go to the cool places in a reasonable amount of time. Good tips!

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    1. Oh that's true! Then again, I think 1st or business class will suit you then. :D As for your last statement: that's absolutely true!

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  9. I still have my fear of flying, particularly when I am riding a small plane. I have done this probably 4 times in my life and the only reason I overcame my fear was because I did not want to be the party pooper! LOL!

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    1. Haha! I guess we can add that social pressure can force one to take that flight still? ;) Glad that you still managed to get on that flight though.

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  10. These are great tips, the fear of flying is SO real! My mom is terrified of flying, I finally got her on her first flight. We used the tip of distraction, which seemed to work well for her. She did great, now we just need to try again.

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    1. That's awesome to hear!! I'm glad to hear that distraction worked for her, now you just have to continue to condition her with the though of flying: book more flights ;)

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